Film scores

Soundtrack review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone (John Williams – 2001)

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It’s hard to describe what the world of Harry Potter means for me and my wife. It’s a common obsession and delight and we’ve seen the movies countless times. We own the most deluxe special edition box set ever released and besides that in our house we have the audio books, the actual books and some extra books related to the story. I don’t know why it took me so long to write about the scores but now that all of them have been released it’s time to take this magical journey to Hogwarts. I start this journey just like Harry started his and how JK Rowling started her journey of writing, on a train that is. The first movie was “Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone” .

What better guide to start us on this trip than one of the composers who masters magic the best, a wizard whose themes are unmatched, John Williams. Now I may not always love his scores but as far as themes go, there’s no one like him. I would place the Harry Potter theme (actually “Hedwig’s theme” to be more precise”) in his top three. For me this theme which first appears in “Prologue” almost as a whisper or echo is the most magical musical theme ever. I don’t know how he did but John Williams condensed in 3 minute or so the essence of what the wondrous world of Harry Potter means. This theme starts like the most beautiful of feathers falling and turning into a spectacular landscape. The orchestra comes together under that magic wand and performs a wonderful celebration of life and joy. The theme rarely leaves the score and pieces from it appear in a lot of cues. “Harry’s wondrous world” is probably my favorite version of this main theme and I never get tired of closing my eyes and flying on the wings of the most beautiful dream.

My connection with the story itself both in written and visual form makes me connect very easily to each cue as I remember the scene and realize that I can’t imagine them without the music. The chimes that accompany the arrival of baby Harry give the cue that unmistakable fairy tale sound, both charming and scary at times. It feels as if the score was written from the perspective of a dreamy child himself. I hear the wonder, the confusion and the excitement that only a child can get and the music makes me feel like a child myself. The soft choir and the way the orchestra just seems to take off in an unbelievable flight make me feel overcome with joy and gratitude.

The secondary theme from this score, a joyous and rapid string motif also plays hide and seek with me throughout the album. With these two playful themes weaved through the rest of the adventure this score is a constant source of amazement and delight. Somehow the music feels unrestrained in imagination and behavior and all I can think of, even if this comes later, is “Mischief managed”. The amusing reaction at the wonders of Diagon Alley, the excitement of Quiddich or the first shadows of terror are all given their own special treatment by John Williams.

The playful amusing moments where the kids begin to discover that other world are beautifully explored by the orchestra. Everything makes sense in this score. The brass section announcing the celebrations or banquets, the constant playfulness of the instruments and the stardust that’s sprinkled in every minute of “Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone” have me transported back to Hogwarts every time I listen to them.

Another great thing about this score is that I can almost hear the influence and lead of the conductor of the orchestra. I’ve been to enough concerts to be able to distinguish where the conductor’s stick guides and controls the movement of the instruments and that synchrony makes the composition sound even better. I feel like listening to a period composition at times, from an age where elegance and charm ruled the world.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone” set the standard for the franchise and remains one of my favorite John Williams scores.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 55 / 74

Album excellence: 75%

Highlights:

Prologue

Harry’s wondrous World

The Arrival of Baby Harry

Visit to the Zoo and Letters from Hogwarts

Diagon Alley and The Gringotts Vault

Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters and the Journey to Hogwarts

Entry into the Great Hall and The Banquet

Mr. Longbottom flies

The Quidditch Match

Christmas at Hogwarts

In the Devil’s Snare and The flying Keys

The Face of Voldemort

Hedwig’s Theme

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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